Disassembled and packed separately in over 200 packing cases, the gigantic statute, Liberty Enlightening the World, sailed for the United States aboard the French ship Isère in the spring of 1885. The statue was a gift symbolizing liberty from the people of France to their longtime friends in America. The idea for the Statue of Liberty, as it came to be known, began with a French historian, Édouard de Laboulaye. He envisioned the statue as a fitting memorial to the friendship between the two liberty-loving countries.
Back in 1777, when the colonists were struggling to gain their independence from English rule, a wealthy and courageous Frenchman by the name of Marquis de Lafayette obtained a commission in the Colonies’ Continental army. And although Lafayette, whose full name was Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, was only nineteen when he was commissioned a major general under George Washington, his military training made it possible for him to command troops effectively in several important battles. He was wounded at the battle of the Brandywine and later served with Washington at Valley Forge during the terrible winter of 1777–78.
Lafayette was accepted by Commander Washington as one of his own family, and the young general, whose own father died when he was only two, modeled his life after Washington’s and called the commander his adopted father.
In France, where he returned in 1782, Lafayette was called “the hero of two worlds.” He afterwards distinguished himself as a soldier, patriot, and statesman during the French Revolution and in later political and military maneuvers.
The sculptor who designed and built the Statue of Liberty and helped raise some of the money for its construction was Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. His original model of the statue was only forty-nine inches high, and portrayed the figure of a mighty woman in a flowing robe walking with a torch held high in her right hand, a crown on her head, a broken shackle at her feet (symbolizing the overthrowing of tyranny), and a book cradled in her left arm with the inscription July 4, 1776.
But when the packing cases delivered to America by the French ship were uncrated and the full-size statue assembled from the more than 300 thin molded copper sheets, it stood 151 feet high. The inner structure to support the copper-clad lady was built by another Frenchman, Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, who designed the world-famous 984-foot Eiffel Tower for the Paris Exposition of 1889.
The sculptor Bartholdi suggested that the statue be erected on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor, where a base or pedestal even higher than the statue was set within the walls of old Fort Wood.
Today, an elevator lifts visitors up through the inside of the monument’s base, and a double circular stairway winds on up to the crown where viewers can gaze many miles out to sea. The brilliantly lighted torch, once reached by a ladder, shines as a beacon to those who love liberty everywhere. And a plaque inside the pedestal is inscribed with a poem by Emma Lazarus: